Looking back, Nintendo probably regrets giving New Super Mario Bros. the “New” prefix. Initially released on May 15th 2006 in the United States, the return to Mario’s 2D platforming roots is actually getting quite old these days.
While the game and its many sequels don’t always sit well with fans, it is undeniable that the original entry played a major role in Nintendo’s rejuvenation in the late 2000’s. The DS was a risky gamble for Nintendo, but the company managed to sell it to a wide audience with easily understandable games that appealed across various demographics. By making Mario 2D once again Nintendo could court both older fans who fell out of gaming and new gamers who would be able to grasp the simple controls almost instantly.
In retrospect it’s actually quite surprising to see how much New Super Mario Bros. broke the mold, despite being positioned as a retro throwback. Mario had the triple jump, ground pound and wall-jump from the 3D games, the end-of-world bosses were hugely varied, and the introduction of the mega and mini mushrooms allowed for some unique alternate routes. There was also the blue shell power-up that allowed Mario to skim across water and break ground level blocks, which unfortunately hasn’t been seen again since.
The visual style of New Super Mario Bros. was also a massive departure, as rather than using 2D sprites like the classic NES and SNES titles it features 3D character models on a 2D backdrop, a style which has since become iconic of the “New” franchise. Another iconic part of the series is its controversially catchy music; it’d be hard to imagine a New Super Mario Bros. game without the “wah wah” sound bites, for better or worse.
Also worth noting is the inclusion of various minigames, most of which were lifted straight from the DS port of Super Mario 64. While they’re nothing major, they were fun side-activities to help break up the core side scrolling action.
Ultimately, New Super Mario Bros. ended up being the best selling DS game of all-time, with a whopping 30.80 million units sold worldwide, 6 million more than its closest competitor Nintendogs. When you look at it that way, it’s really no surprise Nintendo has released three direct sequels in the decade since.
First up was New Super Mario Bros. Wii in 2009, which introduced four player co-op and saw the return of both Yoshi and the Koopalings to a 2D Mario platformer. Much like the first game it sold incredibly well, becoming the fourth best-selling Wii game at 29.32 units sold.
The series eventually moved back to handhelds with the direct sequel New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS, which was filled to the brim with coins. Series fatigue may have been setting in at this point, however, as the game saw more middling reviews and the sale numbers, while not bad by any stretch, didn’t hit the lofty heights of its predecessors.
Nintendo obviously had some confidence in the spin-off franchise though, as it released the next entry in the franchise a mere four months after 2, alongside the launch of the Wii U in 2012. Imaginatively named New Super Mario Bros. U, the game essentially builds on the foundation set by the Wii version while throwing in gorgeous backgrounds, imaginative levels and the brand new character Nabbit, who has since become something of a franchise staple. Despite its successes, New Super Mario Bros. U is the worst selling of the “New” series, although worryingly it’s still the second best selling Wii U game.
It has been a hectic ten years for the New Super Mario Bros. series, and it’s hard to say where it will go from here. One of the four Super Mario Maker themes is based on New Super Mario Bros. U though, and features its various special moves and propellor cap. Those who want to scratch the New Super Mario Bros. itch have thousands of courses to choose from, at least.
As for the original DS game, you can download it to your Wii U right now via the Virtual Console. While it may not have been the return to classic Mario fans expected, its importance cannot be understated, and all-in-all it’s undeniably fun to rampage through a level as Mega Mario. Be sure to give it a play for its 10th birthday if you haven’t already!